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Vet Gazette

Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine eNewsletter

Greetings From A Veterinary College in South India

August 14th, 2014

A typical morning in the small animal medicine clinic at Karnataka Veterinary, Animal & Fisheries University.

Submitted to Vet Gazette by Hugh Duddy (Class of 2016)

Greetings from south India where Kathryn Gaub (Class of 2017) and I spent July on an externship at the veterinary college in the city of Bangalore. The externship was kindly funded by scholarships provided by Dr Luiz Bermudez and the School of Biomedical Sciences. This pioneering visit to India represents the first exchange of students or faculty in a collaboration that Dr Manoj Pastey is striving to foster between OSU’s college of veterinary medicine and his alma mater in Bangalore where he graduated as a veterinarian in 1988. Dr Pastey is still remembered by faculty for his academic accomplishments, by the way, and, if his vision materializes, we’ll have a “twin” college in India with the opportunity for very interesting and fruitful interaction between students and faculty at both schools.

Bangalore is nestled at the southern tip of the Deccan plateau, more or less where the hills of the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats converge. India is divided into states and Bangalore is in the state of Karnataka. The Arabian Sea lies about 200 miles to the west while the Bay of Bengal lies a similar distance to the east. Despite being firmly in the tropics, Bangalore’s weather is similar to a pleasant summer’s day in Portland. This balmy climate, in contrast to most of India at this time of year, is one of the main reasons the British chose to settle here in the 19th century and, no doubt, the same reason international high-tech companies choose to base their Indian headquarters here nowadays.

The vet college in Bangalore is situated on the campus of the Karnataka Veterinary, Animal & Fisheries University. The college is one of 45 or so throughout India, each of which graduates about 60 students each year. In that respect, both of our colleges share similar class sizes. Admission to vet colleges in India is based on an entrance examination with quotas for certain segments of the population, particular castes or remote rural areas for example. As in Britain and other former British colonies, veterinary medicine in India is an undergraduate degree and students graduate after 5 years with a Bachelor’s degree in Veterinary Science (BVSc). Up to 20% of graduates return for 2 years of postgraduate studies to specialize further in medicine or surgery for example.

Villagers with goat in large animal medicine clinic.

Villagers with goat in
large animal medicine clinic.

One interesting aspect of the Indian curriculum is the prominence of animal husbandry, which reflects the future career of most Indian veterinary students in food production where many clients are poorly educated subsistence farmers. Interestingly, many undergraduate students have never had the opportunity to dissect dogs or cats in anatomy, a bull calf being typically used instead.

For the first three weeks of our externship, we rotated through clinics at the veterinary hospital where students treat the patients under the watchful eye of professors. The hospital charges very little which is one of the main reasons students see a very large case load. For example, major surgery on a dog costs the equivalent of approximately $10, very affordable to many Indians these days. By the time we arrived in the morning, owners were already waiting outside with patients of all shapes and sizes. The hospital sees lots of dogs, mostly pure breeds. German shepherds, rottweilers, pomeranians, labradors, and pugs stand out in my mind. Many seemed to be watch dogs, status symbols, or breeding stock as a source of income. There were very few cats, usually a fluffy, flat-faced Persian. On the large animal side, there might be two or three cows, a few goats and maybe a sheep on a typical day.

We spent the first week in the medicine clinic. Most of the small animal treatment was provided in a big room with a dozen or so tables spaced a yard or so apart. It resembled a bazaar at times with animals on tables, owners with friends or family members, students running from back and forth, and every so often a professor surrounded by a horde of students on an interesting case. There were no partitions. Dogs were on a table next to cats, parvo cases next to routine vaccinations, ECGs in one corner, an otoscopy in another. While this was going on, there might be a goat outside with Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) or a cow with traumatic reticuloperitonitis (TRP), which seemed quite  common as owners let their cows graze indiscriminately on the roadside. On one occasion, there was a cow in the last stages of rabies. All in all, a very fascinating experience!

After a week in the medicine clinic, we moved next door and spent a week in the surgery and radiology clinic. Animals were generally first seen in the medicine clinic and then referred to surgery and radiology if necessary. Bangalore has lots of street dogs and fractures were common, giving students the opportunity to routinely perform intramedullary pin surgeries. Another common surgery was the removal of aural hematomas, caused by dogs with ectoparasite infestations shaking their heads excessively. Cow rumenotomies to treat impactions, caused mainly by plastic bags apparently, were the most common large animal surgery although we never saw one during our stint in the clinic. We also learned how to develop x-ray film, used for initial diagnosis, although the orthopedic operating theatre used digital radiography.

Our third week was spent in the gynecology clinic. Breeding dogs is very popular here and exfoliated vaginal cytology was performed regularly to determine if the time was right to breed. Artificial insemination on dogs was also performed regularly. There was also a pug dystocia, which might not surprise you! On the large animal side, there were a couple of cow c-sections as well as a difficult fetotomy where the gigly wire snapped 4 times on the first joint being sawed.

While the first three weeks were organized in advance of our arrival, the final two weeks were “a la carte” for the most part. I was particularly fascinated with what I heard about the Karnataka Milk Federation (aka KMF), a dairy co-operative that provides veterinary services to thousands of members at virtually no cost. Members call their local KMF veterinary office in the morning and are then included on the veterinarian’s “route” for that day. An appointment costs the equivalent of 10 cents including any drugs prescribed. An unscheduled emergency call is also possible for the equivalent of 70 cents. I organized a very interesting day traveling from village to village with a KMF veterinarian on one of these routes. Although most of the farmers owned just 2 or 3 cows, collectively, they form part of India’s so-called “White Revolution”, a coordinated effort to achieve self-sufficiency in milk production.

We saw another glimpse of the efforts to improve milk production when we visited three different semen production centers outside Bangalore. KMF has its own production center while the state government of Karnataka and the central government of India maintain their own centers too. The mission of all three is to improve the genetics of dairy cows in their respective constituencies by crossing local Indian breeds with Holstein-Friesian or Jersey bulls.

Bengal tiger with mammary gland tumor being examined in squeeze chute.

Bengal tiger with mammary gland tumor being examined in squeeze chute.

We also spent two days visiting the ancient city of Mysore where we had the opportunity to meet the head veterinarian at the renowned Mysore Zoo. He provided a very interesting tour of the zoo’s veterinary facilities including the feed storage, meat inspection, and meal preparation areas. Beef carcasses, for example, were only chopped up on the zoo premises after lymph nodes, livers, and hearts have been inspected for signs of disease.

During our last few days in Bangalore, we had the opportunity to spend time at the nearby Bannerghatta biological park which includes a zoo and safari park as well as a rescue center for tigers, lions, sloth bears and other wild animals. The rare opportunity to interact with three orphaned leopard cubs rescued from the wild was just one highlight. We also had the opportunity to help examine and treat tigers and lions for wounds, injuries, and other conditions while they were fully conscious and restrained in squeeze chutes. Some of these tigers had, in fact, been recently captured in the wild. We also participated in oral surgery on a Himalayan black bear during which we coincidentally met a veterinary pathologist visiting from Washington State University.

Apart from exposure to veterinary medicine in India, this has been a phenomenal cultural experience. Although there are plenty of signs of prosperity, especially in Bangalore thanks to its high-tech boom, India remains a developing country. This was very evident in the villages where, apart from some basic modern conveniences such as the ubiquitous cell phone, life probably hasn’t changed much for generations. Every state has its own language too and these regional languages form the basis of state lines. Kannada is the native language of Karnataka and, even in the relatively cosmopolitan city of Bangalore, it is often difficult to communicate in English.

The hills of the Western Ghats run alongside south-west India’s Malabar Coast and the spices produced in these hills, pepper and cardamom for example, made this region a major center in the world’s spice trade thousands of years ago. Unsurprising, therefore, spicy food has been central to our experience here. The coexistence of different religions and beliefs has also been a very interesting aspect of our cultural experience. Hinduism has the greatest following by far as reflected in the very ornate and colorful Hindu temples and shrines in every neighborhood and village. Mosques too are  common with Christian churches also evident here and there.

I could write so much more but time and, probably, space in the Vet Gazette won’t permit. I think, undoubtedly, this opportunity to spend time in south India with veterinary colleagues has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience as students chosen in the years ahead will hopefully conclude too. This brief report wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the incredible hospitality we’ve enjoyed from everybody here. The students, in particular, have been extraordinary. They don’t have much but they share everything they have with each other. If we learned nothing else, we learned that India is a special place with special people, and Dr Pastey’s vision is well worth the effort on all our parts to make happen.

Traditional dress at veterinary college graduation ceremony

Traditional dress at veterinary college graduation ceremony


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